An open letter to from independent councillor Steve Palmer to councillor Nick Worth (Executive Member for Libraries) re the Lincolnshire Libraries ‘Palmer Proposal’. A summary of the proposal can be found at the end of this post.
Mrs. Palmer submitted a full alternative previously which met your original criteria of 1.94million savings per year and gave a true comprehensive and efficient service but it was altered by officers and Mrs Palmer is convinced that it was altered to make it unpalatable to council. Her proposal did not include any reduction to hours of opening different to LCCs first recommendation on Tier 1 and 2 and yet that was portrayed that she had all the way through to and including LCCs defence at the Judicial Review. Which is why the judge said that he was not surprised that LCC had rejected the proposal from Mrs Palmer.
I would like to know why was the judge given incorrect information about an alternative proposal?
Mrs Palmers final version of the alternative proposal which she calls version three was handed to Cllr. Hill with an extra copy for you Cllr. Worth just prior to the scrutiny meeting 2nd December. It was explained to Cllr.Hill that it matched the new budget of 1.73 million. The reason that version 3 was produced was because the officers proposal had changed from the target of 1.94million to 1.73 million savings per year and she utilised the extra to give more hours opening at The Deepings and North Hykeham. In fact she rated those libraries to be tier 2 level.
So my second question is why did Mrs Palmer never have the opportunity at Scrutiny, Executive or Council to explain her proposals and respond to criticisms and refute the changes to her proposals and why did officers who were submitting a rival proposal (albeit the councils proposal) present it and give false interpretations.
It is interesting that willing volunteers are constantly being praised for coming forward to take over the libraries and yet I have not seen any evidence that without the threat of closure that any would have come forward under any other circumstances. So it is my conclusion that without the threat no groups would have come forward. However many people would love to volunteer in libraries to add value to the service but with the support of professional staff as was already happening in Sutton on Sea and Alford and Wragby. However a lot of those same volunteers have bulked at the idea of running a Library and indeed the Alford volunteers resigned on mass and some of the volunteers at Sutton on Sea have resigned because to run a library is not what they signed up for.
Mrs Palmers proposal has the additional bonus that it would be consistent with the model of adding value by utilising volunteers because it will have a base of professional staffing to provide onsite support for volunteers rather than remote support.
Mrs Palmers proposal did have more mobile stops saved than the preferred proposal and indeed was the only part that was used by the preferred proposal from the consultation.
There was made much at the executive about Mrs Palmers proposal charging for Internet use of 50p however it never came out that she had made provision for mitigation and had set aside funding equal to just under 25% of Internet usage figures for our libraries for concessions to apply. The executive made much of this 50p charge but I have found it interesting that by doing a straw pole of users while in the library that the people said they would not find it off putting to be charged 50p and on the contrary thought it amazing they are not charged.
So it leads to another question. Why in the consultation was it not asked about charging for Internet use and indeed any other ways of raising funds and why was the provision of concessions never made clear at the executive or indeed to the judge at the Judicial Review.
My final question is, at the scrutiny on the 2nd of December why did the chairman see fit to not allow the distribution of Mrs Palmers version 3 and why did he see fit to ignore Mrs Palmer who was present and was, let’s face it the expert on her proposal, from speaking and explaining her own proposal?
Mrs Palmer is now in the process of looking at answering the new consultation but to be frank I would not blame her for not bothering because in my opinion, and I know she is my wife, I believe that the amount of work she has done on her own without any financial reward, not that she wants any, is remarkable and the way she has been treated is shameful.
Finally I add on Mrs Palmers frustrated email she sent to members of Scrutiny and Executive after the scrutiny on the 2nd of December 2013.
Steve Palmer Lincolnshire Independents
Alford and Sutton Division
Subject: Urgent message ref scrutiny meeting today
Date: Mon, 2 Dec 2013 20:26:12 +0000
I was extremely disappointed with the way that the scrutiny committee was chaired this morning. Before the meeting I was allowed to answer questions about my proposal for approximately half an hour so that any councillors with questions had an opportunity to be given answers. Only a few councillors attended. In light of the presentation at the Extraordinary meeting on November 22nd I have been very busy updating my proposal so that the Executive will, tomorrow, have three options. My latest submission uses the increased budget that matches Jonathan Platt’s recommended one. At the pre-meeting I handed Cllr Hill my update and I also gave him one for Cllr Worth. Cllr Hill assured me that my proposal would be considered on a like for like basis.
My updates to the proposal were photocopied ready for the meeting. Unfortunately, Councillor Brewis refused to distribute these to the members of the committee. If he had done so the members of scrutiny would have seen how much improvement there is. In addition to this I was not allowed to answer any questions or respond to the negative comments given about my proposal by the officers. I also noted that the 5 of the 6 councillors that voted in favour of the LCC proposal were all Conservatives. Cllr Brewis is supposed to be Independent but is of course part of the ruling group. Were they whipped I ask myself because that is how it appears and if they were then there is no point in having a scrutiny committee in the first place.
I am now going to respond to the comments made about my proposal by Jonathan Platt. Please note that the entire piece of work that I have done on this has been researched and compiled by me alone using CIPFA, LRO, library packs, LCC website, FOI. I have had no assistance at all from any councillor whatsoever. The answers given below could have been given at today’s meeting had I been given a chance to respond.
Q1. Charging for computer access- barrier to accessing information.
Q9. Cannot identify 17.5%; Known concessions 28% of current users; VAT not taken into account; 200,000 less computer hours in 2010/2011; cost of charging not included;
A. Actually my budget came in under £1.938m by £53,000 and this was the amount that I had allocated to concessions. £53,000 equates to 17.5% of £302,998 which was the internet income I had identified. So it is easy to identify quite frankly. Incidentally, in my updated proposal the amount available for concessions now represents 37% of internet income so I think that covers that problem. The hours I have used are from CIPFA and refer to the year 2010/2011 so no discrepancy there. Surely there is a cost for charging under your own decision to charge guest users £1.25 per time which you have not stated a charging cost for? Note this is considerably higher than my suggestion of 50p.
Q3. Does not maximise efficiency and value for money- e.g. retains all building costs, but with shorter opening hours and high management costs.
A. Actually is does offer efficiency and value for money. You are expecting volunteers to open the building for 6 hours per week and pay for it themselves with a subsidy from you of £5167 p/a for 4 years. My proposal is that tier 3 libraries open for 10 hours per week 6 of these libraries currently open for that long anyway! Secondly, with my updated proposal it is possible to open the tier three libraries at their present level all be it with only 1 professional staff member (which incidentally occurs at our local library very often even on a busy Saturday morning!)up to a maximum of 20 hours. In addition Deeping and North Hykeham libraries can be allocated tier 2 status and open for 25 hours each!
Q2. Limits choice for communities on how services can be shaped and run- removes the choice to operate and develop local community hubs.
A. Lets get something quite clear shall we. The public meant that they regard their current library to be more than just a book library. They use it to access information local and general, the distribution of condoms is done through libraries and so on. They do not mean that they want to take over and be responsible for raising the funding of their own library and why should they when it is paid for through council tax?
Q4. Dilutes capacity and professional staff from tier 1 and 2 – the busiest libraries- to manage staff at tier 3 libraries as well.
A. Actually in both my proposals tier 1 is open 50 hours per week and tier 2 for 25 hours per week as per the original plan by LCC. In my updated proposal The full time equivalent staffing levels are the same as being offered by LCC so I cannot see why this point has been raised frankly. In addition my updated proposal allows for 18 site co-ordinators as at present so again what’s the difference?
Q5. Potential to further blur roles of library staff and volunteers. This is rubbish. Other authorities use volunteers to work alongside staff and indeed this method of utilising volunteers is actually recommended by Government, TUC and Volunteer England.
Q7. Spread of staffing- unless additional budget to cover leave etc. likely that volunteers will have to operate alone some of the time at busy libraries.
A. You are saying, however, that tier 3 libraries are NOT busy and in any case I am sure that volunteers can work in pairs during staff holidays if necessary because volunteer groups at tier 3 libraries at present work without a staff presence.
Q8. concerns on ability to operate proposed mobile services-
Not clear if time is given to complete essential tasks, or for staff breaks.
not clear where vehicles are based
lack of a continuity vehicle
does not appear to be sufficient capacity to cover all mobiles routes/ stops and targeted services with vehicle mix.
A. You know very well that I inserted breaks into my timetables. You’ve had my timetable for mobile routes in your possession since August and have not asked me these questions, perhaps you should have done so to raise my awareness of how long essential tasks actually take.
As far as locations for bases are concerned I was initially unsure where you currently locate them. Incidentally, you were not forthcoming with this information. I am certain, however, that one is Nettleham, another is Mablethorpe and a third is Sleaford. If I use these bases in my proposal then all locations can easily be reached in under 1 hour. I allowed for this hour at each end of the working day.
I am sorry but my proposal that matched your initial need for £1.938m reduction went along the same lines as your proposal in that you were intending to single man yourself! Secondly, I only use three vans to incorporate my routes. You addressed this matter at the presentation on 22nd Nov and now that I have updated my proposal to match your new figure I can tell you that I am also able to double man all vans AND increase my large vans by one!
Q10. No Caretakers included for Lincoln Central up to £52,730.
A. In my updated proposal there is an allocation for 2 X site co-ordinators. This matches your update. Incidentally if they are G4 it is less than £52,730.
Q. No travel budget for Site co-ordinators £26,380
A. Yes there is. I have totalled all ‘other costs’ including transport and deducted income as per the FOI I eventually received.
double staffing not allowed for
A. This has already been answered.
Shortfall in cost of £5,800 mobiles/drivers
A. I don’t know what you mean
Cost of returning 3 vehicles early- one off £70k staffing- heavy reliance on single staffing- relief budget required- LCC estimate £90k shortfall £47k
A. If you are having to return vehicles early would not this have applied to your original proposal? After all, you only allocated 4 large vans and hoped that 30 library sites would come forward and negate the need for two of them. This is where your original calculation of £5167 per site came from! Obviously if you have ordered these on the presumption of your proposal going forward then it is not my fault.
A. What is the one off staffing cost of £70k?
A. I have already answered the question on single staffing
A. Relief budget req? Do LCC proposal have a relief budget? Also what shortfall?
Q. Overall estimate of budget pressures in proposal=£400k
A. Even if your negative points are valid and I disagree on that, the total ‘budget pressures’ only amount to approx. £300k
Q. leads to fewer jobs in structure which is likely to increase the number and cost of redundancies (c12fte)
A. In my updated proposal I believe that the job losses amount to less than yours i.e. 32.67 full time equivalent. Incidentally the staffing on my updated proposal at least matches yours on tier 1 and 2 and the mobile vans.
I would like to make an official complaint that the officers were disingenuous in attacking my proposal knowing that the chairman’s decision would not allow me to respond. This slanted the evidence that the scrutiny committee heard and if this is an example of how your scrutiny works then it leaves a lot to be desired and I pity this County’s people.
I sincerely hope that tomorrow’s Executive decision will take into account both of the proposals now in your possession in addition to the official one. I also hope sincerely that you will take note of my responses to the points put forward today against my proposals contained within this email. I look forward to tomorrow’s decision with interest.
A summary of the Palmer Proposal (now submitted to the council 2/10/2014)
All tier 1 and 2 libraries for the purpose of this proposal are given equal hours respective for their level ( although could be altered as long as hours from one are transferred to another) exception is Bourne which has to be 45 hours because of standing arrangement with district authority. Tier 1 has a base of 50 hours Tier 2 has a base of 25 hours.
All current static libraries tier 1, 2 and 3 static buildings are retained under county council control with professional staff.
All tier 3 static libraries open as per preconsultation up to 20 hours per week with a professional base.
North Hykeham and The Deepings be up rated to tier 2 levels of 25 hours because of population and usage figures.
Tier 3 current mobile stops as preconsultation but limited to a maximum of 8 hours monthly (inline with LCC original proposal)
Tier 4 current mobile stops as preconsultation but limited to a maximum of 1 hour monthly (inline with LCC original proposal)
Retain 150 of the 286 HLS mobile stops under threat preconsultation by revising the mobile routes. All 30 minute stops. Therefore, the total number of mobile stops is 247 out of 383 losing only 136.
Total Large vans to 3 to cover the reorganised route plan. 4 small vans for targeted provision including nursing homes as at preconsultation.
These proposals could stand on there own but with the obvious interest from community in libraries that has been shown, albeit under threat of closure. It is concluded that these same groups could be offered to add value to increase the offer of their local library at Tier 3, similar to the way that Sutton on Sea , Wragby and Alford operated preconsultation who did not have the overbearing responsibility of raising funds and management and trying to ensure sustainability. Also the opportunity to have a trained volunteer, professional joint working system developed as recognised by Government, TUC and Volunteer England as a good model.
In fact why are not volunteers encouraged at higher tiers as well. Why should volunteers not be encouraged to get involved at Lincoln Central or Mablethorpe or any other of the bigger libraries. This would give true partnership working with the authority.
A charge of 50p per half hour Internet access is proposed to help fund this proposal but there is a concession allowed for those in need for example benefit claimants. The concession is about one quarter of the total usage levels.
There are other library authorities who charge successfully and indeed a lot of people have expressed that they would not mind a modest fee and non members could be charged higher to encourage membership. This is maybe where a true consultation could have been used to ask the people’s opinion on?
The budget for this proposal comes to £4,351,722 which is the frontline new budget for Libraries.
I hope that this gives an better idea of the Palmer Proposal that has been submitted for consideration under the new consultation (originally posted to Facebook by Stephen Palmer.)